The Only Rule Is Plasticby Roger Young / Images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 09.03.2011
On my back, I am charting the stars slyly swapping places. The sky has a never before imagined depth. In the far distance, through the sound of the electro pyramid, we can hardly hear the roar of Funeral For A Friend. My ‘shrooms kicked in halfway through their set and it was too hectic; I had to go. I walked up to the tent camp, passed a guy on his knees greedily sucking from a tap, and found a bunch of loosely connected people too blissed out to move. Conversation was disjointed and muted; I drifted off. There is a drop in the electronica and Funeral come through on the wind, strong. A girl in a hammock sits up and says, “Hierdie is die mooiste liedjie”. Someone else rolls over in the dirt, says, “What are we doing? This will all be over in a few hours, we should go soak it in.” We jump and scramble back into the maw.
We arrived at Ramfest 2011 by train on the Thursday afternoon and were camped in by three. The train trip hadn’t been as hectic as last year but still we felt a little fragile, there was a sorta group consensus to take it easy that night. The story upon arrival of a technician losing his thumb in a truck winch combined with mild train fatigue had brought us down. After all there was nothing to really do, only the Mercury tent would be open. The main stage and electro pyramid were just doing sound checks. At around nine we decided to turn in after one more drink. Before that drink was finished some of us ingested mushrooms. Within a few hours there was a naked person, spit showers, piggyback rides and dancing on tables. Liam Lynch was swinging from the roof of the tent. Tim Apter leans to me and says: “There are a lot of young girls here on the verge of making big mistakes.” There was a mosh pit to Rage Against The Machine and Wham! A hot, cute girl takes off her leggings or panties while I give her balance and then I try take her out like a bag of salt but her friends intervene. When “We Built This City” comes on a rousing chorus of “we built this city on Loc – N – Ville” overtakes the tent. It was a stupid night, high and wild with laughter. We had made it to Ramfest and everything was more or less in the same place as last year (including my tent which I had abandoned here). The last thing I remember clearly is Lynch and Kevin Goss Ross shooting the crowd from the speaker stacks and the crowd moshing to them as if they were an actual band.
Friday, we wake up sweating in our tents. It’s eight AM and it’s already too hot to sleep any more. The tent camp by the pool has expanded over night and the empty festival, which we owned for a brief moment, is now being taken over by Gen Pop. I’ve kept space around my tent for late arrivals but I have little hope they’ll get here in time to claim it. Up by the pool it’s calm but down in the main camping area, eddies of dust are causing people to say, “so just like Oppi then.” I hear two metal kids talking about whether or not to try sneak drinks into the main area. A guy walks past them, “you don’t need to sneak, this isn’t Thornfest. You can take in anything you want. The only rule is plastic.”
We swim. We river. We tent camp. We realize it’s nearly time for BLK JKS and race down to the main stage. It’s a terrible slot for one of the most boundary pushing bands in the land right now. Seven PM and Gen Pop is mostly still setting up their tents. The sun is still up and this band is better appreciated in darkness and, even worse, it doesn’t feel like the engineers have a full handle on their space jazz prog sound. The JKS don’t care, they didn’t come all the way here to complain and as the sun sinks hard against the rock space ship sounds, the engineers start to pull through. There are probably about two hundred people watching Linda stalk the stage in his black kaftan, and only a handful are into it. The rest stand around looking bemused. Tshepang looks like an angry toddler with a toy drum set, his dreads aflying like a sea of snake, building the set through Molalatladi; the darkness begins to gather. It ends triumphant in a ravaged storm of feedback and chaos. The BLK JKS redefine rock and roll but none of the rock ‘n rollers are around to see it. It’s eight PM on Friday night and the best band at the festival has already played.
We wait for Ashtray Electric to start and, when they do, we immediately regret it. After the BLK JKS they sound like the worst kind of MOR pop rock; with nothing real, alternative or really musical about them. I escape over to the Griet Electro pyramid (which, unless you are on ‘shrooms, is actually a triangle) to catch Double Adaptor, who are, as per usual, just fucking it up hard. The Electro triangle is a blaze of LCD light and Double Adaptor are whacking out their brand of hard wobbly electro death grind shit. I’m drawn in and lost. Somehow I find myself in the river, swimming with a drunk girl. Who I like. Who quite plainly doesn’t like me. Her not like of me and my refusal to see it cock blocks my entire festival; this is becoming a theme in my life. Somehow time slips away.
I’m in the tent camp alone and drunk and all I can hear is pounding electro. I have no idea what is going on on the main stage. Desmond and the Tutus! I realize and rush back too late. Zebra & Giraffe have already started and they’re abysmal. Really, really terrible. It’s the worst kind of lame pop ever (and again, not real or alternative). “Terrified, I’m terrified!” Greg Carlin warbles like a rejected singer from a Wham! cover band. I have to leave. I seek cover in the Metal tent, seeing as it’s so close.
It’s a sea of metalness, like a coding of metal, all the right elements are there; black clothing, long hair, piercings, moshing and a weird miserablist fervour. It occurs to me that most metalhead girls are quite hot and that a large proportion of metalhead guys are chubby and bearded. I am chubby and bearded. There is of course only one problem with this idea. It might actually involve me listening to metal. But you see this is what I love about Ramfest; the metalheads have their domain, the electronic kids too and the main stage is decidedly radio friendly alternative, except of course for the better bands, which are mostly confined to day slots.
Back at the main stage it’s the tail end of the deeply racist and boring Gazelle. No, maybe racist is too strong a word; Gazelle is just full of failed irony. The whole white African dictator outfit and the pseudo Bootsy Collins outfits just come off as lame and wannabe. I probably wouldn’t think this was the case if the music was any good but it’s not; it’s overblown jazz house from 1997 and it is relies too heavily on crowd hyping and cheesy accents to have any substance. But even if the music was good; the use of the British museum type ethnographic footage from the early 1900s’ of the “savage in his environment” is deeply troubling, I’m sure it’s an attempt to take back the footage, so to speak, but it just comes off as exploitative.
It feels like it’s going to be all downhill from here, my energy is flagging, my mood has soured. Maybe I’m just hating on these bands because I’ve been up for days, maybe it’s because I just don’t like them. A festival has to cater for so many people, it just can’t please everyone all the time; Ramfest however tries poes hard.
Die Antwoord come on and immediately feel played out. For the first few tracks I’m thinking “seen it all before” but Ninja and Yo-Landi’s energy is super nova. The crowd eat it up and throw it back, the beats are hard and slick, the rhyming and weaving is so fucking tight that by the time Jack Parow comes on for “Wat Pomp”, I’m as big a fan as I was before the explosion. Hi-Tech’s beats just own. Ninja and Yo-Landi have honed their performance down to an effortless flow of insult and gratitude; they treat the crowd like a younger brother, warmth hidden below the taunts. Parow is also mind-blowingly excellent in this context, he seems to be let loose from his comedy persona and just rips into the rhymes; it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Yo-landi is Rich Bitch; it’s method supreme, the kind of thing you only ever see a few times in your life. Their rendition of Enya’s “Sail Away” is just perfect. During the second chorus of “Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away Motherfuckers”, I’m crying and laughing at the same time; like I’ve taken killer drugs but I haven’t. There is so much love in Ninja’s fake aggression, so much playfulness that there is no need to wonder why they have become so massive.
The lights go down for “Evil Boy”; Wanga bursts forth, he fits in with Yo-landi and Ninja like he’s been performing with them his entire life. I thought it couldn’t get better but it just does. Somewhere in my tiny little heart I hate Ninja and crew for being this good; for making me gush so hard. But the real kicker, the real moment is “Doos Dronk”; Die Antwoord at their most savage and brilliant. A massive and doos dronk festival crowd singing “Doos Dronk” back to a band that may or may not be criticising them for being doos dronk. But it’s the force of the performance that overrides any of this supposed critique; Parow is back on the stage and is joined by Francois Van Coke, the four of them tear through it angry and hard; RAMfest goes apeshit.
It ends too quickly and we’re heading to the Triangle for Tom Deluxx and Haezer, somehow I end up back stage insulting the guys from Don’t Party about their couch. Then the chick from the MK thing is gaffer taping my wrists together. Outside the bass is so hard that if you lift your hands in the air it just pushes them back. Kevin seems too afraid or too tired to photograph the mayhem. Some time during HAEZERS set I feel faint. The light emanating from the Triangle actually creates some sort of half pyramid on the dancefloor and I’ve been a bad little Egyptian. I stumble away from the mass and wake up a few hours later twenty meters from the dance floor, face down in grass. All I can hear is Jake from BTEAM shouting “Where the fuck is the sun, Where the fuck is the sun”. I retreat to my tent. The electro invades my dreams.
*All images © Kevin Goss-Ross.